Self-esteem for students and how to help them build it

With over 20 years of experience teaching at all levels including at several UK and foreign universities, It’s obvious to me that self-esteem and confidence are very very important to any successful student. For this reason, I make a conscious effort in any of my classes to constantly monitor the confidence of students and do whatever I can in class to boost confidence and self-esteem increasing the success of my students. On this page, I’m going to give you the benefit not only of my experience but also going to take a look at what the research says to understand why self-esteem is so important for students and how we can help them build it.

Self-esteem for students is important because it affects academic success and confidence to face learning challenges. With high self-esteem, students can communicate and present more positively and become independent thinkers and learners.

confident student

What is the importance of self-esteem for students?

I taught languages and in particular English to foreign students studying at University on Masters in Ph.D. courses. I need courses I’ve encountered students who were very confident and also students at the other end who had very little confidence in their ability. In addition to the fairly obvious idea that confident students learn languages more easily than those who lack confidence, I’ve also seen on many occasions that students who lack confidence or who have low self-esteem are often the most talented in the class.

As stated above, often the students who lack self-confidence are not the ones who succeed academically because they fail to give the best of themselves or present themselves in the best light. 

A classroom is a microcosm of social interaction and there is a lot of peer pressure on competition between students. If a student lacks self-esteem then they won’t have the confidence to participate in Group activities or present in front of the class or ask questions. Because of this limitation which low self-confidence places on them, they often do not achieve high grades, they could often appear invisible in class.

A lack of motivation or dislike for the subject can cause a student to become bored in class, disengaged and as a result, their grades may fall. This can cause a drop in self esteem as the student becomes quite disillusioned. 

Yet another reason for low self esteem in students can be pressure from parents. I have witnessed many times a student who appears to be disengaged in classes is quite bright and when motivated answers questions with enthusiasm. I often see the sad situation of a student floating through college pushed by parents towards a particular subject that the parents wish the child to study. When academic results are disappointing and the student does not succeed the parents become very angry and stressed with a child on this can really increase the problems.


Parent pressure on students should never be underestimated. Whilst it teaching at the University of Leicester some years ago one of our students committed suicide because of the pressure of exams. I am not aware of the exact circumstances of the student however I did talk with good friends of the student and they told me that it was because of the pressure from parents. 

Yet another example I experienced While teaching What is a conversation I had with the caretaker of student accommodation at Leicester University who told me that a student had jumped from the roof and killed herself because of the unbearable pressure she was facing from her parents because of failing her courses. She was in fact from China and her parents had spent a lot of money on her education in the UK and therefore this student was expected to pass with high grades. I do believe that before the student got to this level I’m considering the desperation one must feel to end one’s life in such a situation low self-esteem must have been part of her Journey. 

How can I help a student to improve self-esteem?

There are a number of things that we can do to help students improve their confidence and sense of self-worth, These include:

  • permitting all students to contribute equally
  • Accepting all opinions as validbatexpectingstudents2 explain their reasoning
  • Valuing students as unique individuals who have something to contribute to the class
  • Not having favourites or showing bias in the class
  • Giving students positive feedback
  • Asking students how they feel
  • Enabling everyone to get involved in the class and trying to prevent particular students from dominating
  • Focusing on personal development in terms of progress and improvement rather than academic exams an achievement
  • Acknowledging students contribution and expressing thanks for helpful comments
  • Use names in Class 2show that you value the students
  • Encourage an atmosphere where students can help that each other

All of the above points are very important for improving the self-esteem of students however believe that one thing above all else is the most important way to help a student improve their self esteem. The one thing I believe that stands above all else as most important is teaching students how to deal with the reality of setbacks and failure in life. It is inevitable that we will fail but what separates winners from losers in life is how are you react to failure and setbacks. What we need to teach students is that failure and temporary setbacks always exist and they are there to teach us lessons rather than to prevent us from reaching our goals. To achieve our goals it is necessary to learn from mistakes, and with renewed motivation, to try again even harder to achieve what is desired.

Students’ main goals include academic achievement which is determined by exam results. When exam results are Not great a student needs to know how to get help and how to decide what to do next to improve rather than lose confidence and give up.

This is where support is particularly important, and I have been involved in supporting students for many years not only in academic terms but also on a personal level. I think that one thing about teachers is that they have a responsibility not just to help a student get exam results but also to improve and develop as a person. If a teacher can help a student improve their communicational and social skills, for example, this will be a real confidence booster to the student. Such skills will be of help to the student throughout their future life and may contribute to their future sense of self.

This is why I believe that the teacher can help the student improve their self-esteem and confidence over time. Of course, it is a partnership between the teacher, the student, and possibly parents.

What causes low self-esteem in students?

It has been shown in many studies that low self-esteem in students is connected with poor academic results (see Hamachek, 1995; House, 1993).

Woodside Et al (1999) Carried out an interesting study into the relationship between students’ academic self-concept which will affect self esteem and their relationship and contact with other members of faculty such as teachers. One point that I would disagree with as a result of my experience and years of teaching at the university level, is that teachers can not affect the self-esteem of students in a classroom. Woodside et al. limit the effect of the teacher on the student’s attitude towards their academic abilities whereas I believe that the comments and teaching style can over time affect students’ confidence and self-esteem to a great extent.

Another major cause of self esteem in students is due to judgment from fellow classmates and peers. This will always exist and the teacher is the one who is responsible for creating a positive Attitude in his or her students. One way to do this is to discuss and teach tolerance and respect for each other. Encourage students to give ideas without fear of judgment and that includes judgment of the other members of the class which, in fact, may mean more to the student.

I remember when I was a student that one of my major fears was being embarrassed in front of my friends in class I’m sure that most students face this fear. The teacher needs to do his or her best to ensure there is no fear of embarrassment either from the teacher or from other students in the class.

As with any parents or other important adult in a student’s life, the teacher must lead by example so in order to teach tolerance they have to practice it. In order to teach awareness and respect for differences in culture and opinions, the teacher has to practice this every day in class. Desiro things that I try to do in my classes.

How to promote self-esteem in the classroom?

One way to help students improve their self-esteem in the classroom is to engage in activities such as group discussions where opinions are valued and shared. Ullah et al.(2013) Claim that students are motivated through discussion because it promotes learning and sharing of ideas and agreement between fellow members in the class. This sharing and agreeing on ideas through discussion provides students who contribute with a sense of achievement and acknowledgment from others which can be very good for confidence and self-esteem.

According to this interesting article from India, teachers were always referred to as “gurus” and had the responsibility of helping a student prepare themself for the challenges of life. They were particularly interested in teaching students how to be more positive and determined. One way that Dabas et al. suggest for teachers to do this is to base their teaching principles on the Bhagavad Gita. In India, it seems that teachers have become more responsible than ever for teaching positive values to help develop character in students.

Quote from Ghandi about the Bhagavad Gita:

“ When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad Gita. I find a verse here and a verse there and I immediately begin to smile in the  midst of overwhelming tragedies”

Mahatma K. Gandhi, Young India, 1925, pp. 1078-1079

In my opinion, teachers can do much to help their students gain confidence and feel much better about their own abilities and contribution in class. A positive relaxed space within the classroom promotes learning in a positive and engaging way which benefits all of the students because it develops communicational skills which is a big part of social esteem.

I’ll also mention that it is vital for a teacher to respect students and in this way provide an example for them to follow. This example of respect for others will help the student to also begin to respect themselves and the value of their own ideas and opinions. 

In class, I am always aware that I must treat my students as unique individuals each with their own interesting attitude to life and ideas which come from their experiences. Regarding students as valuable individuals within a class promotes self-esteem.

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Dabas, P., & Singh, A. (2016). The Bhagavad Gita teachings for promoting resilience and optimism among school children: A narrative overview. Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(2), 232-236. Retrieved from

Hamachek, D. (1995). Self-concept and school achievement: Interaction dynamics and a tool for assessing the self-concept component. Journal of Counseling & Development, 73, 419-425.

House, J. D. (1993). Achievement-related expectancies, academic self-concept, and mathematics performance of academically underprepared adolescent students. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 154, 61-71.

Ullah, M., Sagheer, A., Sattar, T., & Khan, S. (2013). Factors influencing students motivation to learn in Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan (Pakistan). Ullah, MI, Sagheer, A., Sattar, T., & Khan, S. International Journal of Human Resource Studies, 3(2), 90.


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